Israel's New PM Bennett Wants A Restart With Biden Meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will seek to set a new tone when he meets President Biden following tense moments between Israel's former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Democrats.

Israel's New Leader Wants A Fresh Start With America. That Will Be Tough

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's new prime minister visits President Biden today seeking a fresh start. Naftali Bennett represents an Israeli coalition that ousted the longtime leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was so closely associated with one U.S. political party that a critic once said he was, quote, "essentially an Israeli Republican." Bennett wants to resume a bipartisan approach, as would President Biden like to do, though that calls on them to overlook a lot. NPR's Daniel Estrin flew to the United States with Bennett and is on the line. Daniel, welcome back to Washington.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's their approach?

ESTRIN: Their approach is, as Prime Minister Bennett puts it, a new spirit of cooperation. He has repeated that phrase so many times on this trip I've lost count. When you think back, Steve, to when Netanyahu lectured Obama in the Oval Office about a Palestinian state, something like that had never happened before in the Oval Office. It was stunning. And then later, Netanyahu gave his famous speech in Congress denouncing the Iran nuclear deal that Obama was working on. Bennett does not want any of that. He - you know, he does hold similar views to Netanyahu on Iran and on the Palestinians, but his message to the U.S. is let's find ways to work together.

And that is what Bennett's own government is all about. It is this narrow coalition of left wing and right wing, which need - they need to find ways to work together just so that they can keep Netanyahu from returning to power. And so Biden has the very same agenda. He does not want to see Netanyahu return to power either. He wants a good relationship with Bennett, and he wants to keep the issues that they don't agree on to private discussions instead of public confrontations.

INSKEEP: But where do they stand on this underlying question of how to address the occupation of Palestinian territories?

ESTRIN: Whenever we reporters ask Bennett's staff about the Palestinians, it feels like it's the elephant in the room, and they kind of sigh. And Bennett has wanted to set expectations in the U.S. right off the bat that he does not believe in a Palestinian state. And Biden does. Bennett has told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he will allow Israeli settlements in the West Bank to grow, which the U.S. opposes because settlements take up the land that Palestinians want. And Bennett says peace talks with the Palestinians are not going to happen on his watch but that he is willing to stabilize the Palestinian economy and prevent violence. And Biden is actually on board with that, including no peace talks for now. You know, progressive Democrats in the U.S. want to see Biden put more pressure on Israel. That's going to be a question if that'll happen.

INSKEEP: Now, what about the Iran nuclear deal, which you mentioned? Joe Biden - President Biden would like to get back in. Israelis have been deeply skeptical all along. Naftali Bennett, I assume, is no different than Netanyahu on that.

ESTRIN: Right. I mean, you know, this is an issue that has dogged both countries since Netanyahu and Obama duked it out. I mean, Bennett, I think, wants the U.S. to agree on the fundamentals, and the fundamentals are never allow nuclear weapons. And he wants to propose working with the U.S. together, a joint cooperation on how to curb Iran's nuclear enrichment. Ever since the U.S. left the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's uranium enrichment has skyrocketed. And so Bennett sees this as a time to pressure Iran and not to make deals with it, even though Biden actually may want to return to the deal.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin. He is covering the trip of the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to Washington, D.C.

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